Saturday, December 7, 2019

I Have Proven That This Fire Can Be Put Out

When conservatives in the media spend most of their time talking about how our nation would be better off if somebody, somewhere else followed the right set of ideas, they become like the mathematician in the old joke.
In a recent post, I criticized right-wing pundits who like to harp on the supposed fact that America is a republic rather than a democracy, when in reality, “democracy” and “republic” are just Greek and Latin words for the same thing – and modern America is not an example of that thing. Yet if you spent too much time listening to conservative media, you might come away thinking that the cause of our predicament is that young people don’t appreciate the role of representative bodies, like the Electoral College, in checking the power of the mob.

Give me a break. Nobody in the world is trying to make their country into a direct democracy. Even classical Athens, the favorite bogeyman of the “Republic Good Democracy Bad” crowd, conducted its government through elected officials. The truth is, everybody believes in checks and balances of some sort.

Now, it certainly doesn’t help when, for one of America’s political parties, “checks and balances” means that if you can’t get a policy change approved by the voters, then you can enact it through the courts instead. And it only gets worse when the other party, rather than calling for any resistance to judicial power grabs, just responds by publishing long thinkpieces about how this wasn’t the founders’ intention and how the country would be better off if the courts didn’t “foreclose the democratic process” on the issue, but how ultimately the people who submit to the new ruling are just innocent victims whose only moral responsibility is to recognize that they were wronged and construct elaborate arguments proving it.

It all reminds me of the old joke about the mathematician in the burning building. It goes something like this: A physicist, an engineer, and a mathematician were staying in a hotel when each awoke in the night to see that a small fire had broken out in his room. The physicist went to the sink and measured out the exact amount of water needed to extinguish the flames. The engineer just poured as much water as he could on the fire until it was out cold. And the mathematician got out a pencil and a pad of paper, worked his way through some elaborate calculations, and then went back to bed with a smile on his face, saying “I have proven that this fire can be put out.”

This, roughly speaking, is the way in which the bulk of the conservative movement has responded to the changes which have made this country unrecognizable over the last fifty years. Everybody on the right half of the political spectrum agrees that the country would be a nicer place if the tenth amendment were still followed and state law had the last word on topics not addressed in the constitution. And most of them think that merely by having the right opinion, and talking about it at great length, they have absolved themselves of any duty to actually fight for the freedoms they claim to cherish.

The founders waged a successful War of Independence against the strongest nation on earth in order to defend their right to be ruled by elected assemblies from a distant central government that wouldn’t acknowledge that right. And a few generations later, the free states proved themselves willing to risk war rather than let the Supreme Court have the final say on the slavery issue. But that was then, and this is now. Nowadays, it seems, our goal is merely to demonstrate, on paper, that there’s a better way to do things.

Now the sad thing is that when this is the attitude of a large enough majority, there isn’t any good way out. Secession and nullification are not things that isolated individuals can do. So while I vote for independence-minded candidates whenever one comes up on the ballot in some local race, and give money to Abolish Abortion Texas – a movement that lobbies its home state to treat Roe v. Wade the way that some northern states treated the fugitive slave laws – I don’t have an optimistic outlook on the ultimate success of those ventures.

Still, individuals can at least stop listening to pundits who don’t go any further than repeatedly and passionately explaining why the other wide is wrong.

Consider, for example, the recent case of a Texan court which ruled in favor of a mother’s request for sole custody over her seven-year-old son so that she could change his gender to female over the father’s objections. Over the next few days, that ever-doctrinaire conservative outlet, The Federalist, published three articles explaining in detail why what had happened was awful, but not calling on anyone to do anything about it.

Matt Walsh, who for many reasons is my favorite Christian blogger, bluntly said that the morally justified response would be for the father to flee the country with his child rather than submit.

For now, at least, the case ended up being moot, because the judge reversed the jury’s decision and granted joint custody to both parents. But the appeals aren’t exhausted, and if the outcome swings back the other way, don’t expect to hear about it in the news – the judge also put the father under a gag order, because free speech is apparently just another dowdy eighteenth century anachronism that mustn’t be allowed to interfere with the onward march of social progress.

Matt Walsh is different than most commentators because he calls on his listeners to do something more than passively disagree with the government policies that are making everyone’s lives worse. And that doesn’t just apply to extreme cases like what to do when your ex-wife wants to castrate your son. Walsh is also willing to get on people’s case for sending their kids to a leftist school, or letting their daughters play sports against transgendered boys, or listening to feminist relationship advice, or watching Game of Thrones, or going to a church that doesn’t make people feel guilty for their sins.

These are the sorts of actions that make a difference. What doesn’t make a difference is when you take a few hours out of every week to listen to one of the more mainstream conservative voices – the Rush Limbaughs and Ben Shapiros of the world – talk about how what the liberals in power are doing is bad.

The curious thing, though, is that in many cases these people are capable of much more intellectual depth than they let on. But they also know that spending nine hours out of every ten beating on an issue that all your listeners already agree about is usually what the audience wants. So while you can find nuggets of real value in these men’s output – for instance, Shapiro’s defense of private morality when liberals lampooned him as ‘Ben the Virgin’ prior to his marriage – you have to wade through reams of impotent outrage about how we would all be better off if someone far away was following our ideology instead of his own.

So what should one do instead? Get out of the echo chamber!

There is a certain kind of person who can watch the flames running across the floor of their hotel room and feel them licking at his feet, and take comfort all the while in the beautiful dance of abstract figures which prove, conclusively, that the whole tragedy could be avoided if the people in charge had done things differently. Don’t be that person.

If you notice that the things that are making America a worse place in which to live are present, to any degree, in your own life, then stop doing them. If you have children, then be careful of what influences you expose them to. And instead of giving your time to pundits who rail against problems they’re never going to fix, you should find some way to really contribute to a cause that matters to you.

For example: back in April I published a letter to the editor of my local paper about a Dutch neuro-imaging study that showed how children dependent on ADHD medication will grow into broken adults with lasting deficiencies of GABA+, the same neurotransmitter that the drug is increasing in the short term. It was the only letter about the ADHD controversy which the paper had published in at least five years.

Granted, child-drugging isn’t America’s number one abomination – abortion is – but at least the people who choose abortion pretty-much know what they're doing to their child. When it comes to putting a kid on Ritalin or Adderall, this often isn’t the case: the media doesn’t report on the matter the way it should, and the doctors who prescribe the drugs are under a strong financial incentive to downplay any harmful effects.

If this is an issue that concerns you – and it should – then you could try to put a similar letter in your own paper. Or you could, you know, just talk about how Joe Biden is corrupt and how the Democrats in Congress are treating President Trump unfairly.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Democracy is Alive in Bolivia

Coups like the one against Evo Morales are what happen when a nation realizes that a constitution that means whatever the people in power want it to mean is the functional equivalent of no constitution at all.
At the end of my last post, I promised to next address the propensity of so many conservative pundits to rabbit on about the difference between a ‘republic’ and a ‘democracy’ instead of confronting the actual problems that prevent this form of government – and yes, both these words refer to the same thing – from existing in modern America. I would be covering that subject today if it weren’t for a sudden turn of events in Bolivia which merits some commentary, and which has also demonstrated, in action, the principle which I had devoted my last post to explaining:

Namely, that democracy can only exist when mass civil unrest follows any refusal, by the governing authorities, to acknowledge limits on their power.

A quick review of the background to the situation in Bolivia is in order. Evo Morales was elected President of Bolivia in 2005. He began his political career as leader of the coca farmers’ union, and has always been popular among the rural poor. Morales is a socialist, and he devoted much of his presidency to reducing foreign influence over Bolivia’s economy and curbing the power of multinational corporations. He nationalized several industries, such as Bolivia’s main power grid, which were previously owned by consortia of mostly-foreign investors.

Perhaps my readers would expect me, as a right-winger, to be bothered by all of this, but I’m not. I don’t believe in the right of one country’s corporations to own another country’s land and infrastructure. And electing someone like Evo Morales was a good move on the part of the Bolivian people, who wanted to do something about the fact that foreign financiers were hauling away so much of their country’s wealth.

Morales easily won re-election in 2009, getting 64 percent of the vote – more than twice as big as the share that went to the runner-up. That same year, Bolivia adopted a new constitution, under which the President was limited to two terms. But since Morales had served his first term before the change, the limit wouldn’t kick in until the end of his third term. Morales got re-elected again in 2014, by the same huge margin, and should have left office in 2019.

In 2016, two years into what was supposed to be his final term, President Morales held a referendum attempting to amend the constitution to eliminate the term limit. The amendment was voted down, 51.3% to 48.7%. Rather than accept the results, Morales did what modern politicians often do when they lose an election: ask the courts to impose the policy change they want anyways. Bolivia’s Supreme Court issued a hairbrained ruling that the term limits somehow violated the American Convention on Human Rights, and the way was cleared for Morales to run again.

In Bolivia, a presidential candidate can win on the first round in one of two ways: either by getting a majority of the vote outright, or by beating the runner-up by at least ten percentage points. Otherwise, the election goes into a runoff. In 2019, Evo Morales went into the election much weaker than before. His rivals, taken together, ended up getting a majority of the vote, but Morales with his 47 percent still beat out the top runner-up by the requisite ten points.

Morales declared himself the winner, but his victory was widely considered illegitimate: not only had the President flaunted the term limit, he was also dogged by rampant allegations of electoral fraud. Violent protests broke out across the country, and the police and military struggled to keep order as the President’s supporters and his enemies duked it out in the streets.

Then, on Sunday, 10 November – three weeks after the election – the police and the military turned against President Morales and demanded that he resign. That night, Morales, his vice president, and everyone else in the line of succession resigned their offices and fled the country, leaving Jeanine Áñez, the President of the Senate, to become Acting President.

The international reaction to these events was mixed. While many observers were glad to see Morales gone, they found it distasteful that he was ousted by a military coup. The whole thing seemed, to them, like an affront to the rule of law.

The trouble is that if the Bolivians had adhered to the modern, Western concept of the “rule of law” – which in practice is nothing more than the power of the courts to do whatever they want – Morales would never have been overthrown. He did, after all, get the Supreme Court to say that everything he was doing was legal.

 If Bolivia had followed the example set by the United States, that would have been the end of the story. Here in the US, the Supreme Court always gets obeyed, no matter how nonsensical its reasoning. (The last successful resistance was in 1857, when the Taney Court’s attempt to legalize slavery nationwide backfired spectacularly). But the Bolivians are wiser than that, and they realized that a constitution that means whatever the people in power want it to mean is worse than no constitution at all.

And what of the role of the military in all this? My opinion is that they did their duty. According to the Bolivian constitution, Morales had no right to be president a fourth time, and the soldiers and police owed him no allegiance. To accept him as their commander anyway would have been an attack on the constitutional order. Military subservience to civilian authorities has outlived its usefulness if formerly honorable soldiers end up becoming henchmen to a civilian dictator simply because he is a civilian.

That, at least, is the principle that the world should have learned from what happened in Germany in the 1930s. Back then, the Wehrmacht officer corps was, for the most part, very suspicious of Nazi rule, and from Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 until the invasion of Poland in 1939, there were nearly a dozen coups plotted against him. In each case the men involved balked at the last minute, deciding that an attack on civilian authority was a more extreme measure than the situation actually called for.

History went on to show how wrong they had been.

Returning to the matter of Bolivia, it is my hope that what’s left of the government will be able to restore order in the country and that the new elections, once called, will produce a president who can earn the widespread respect of his or her countrymen in much the same way that Evo Morales once did, during his early years in office, before the power got to his head.

Meanwhile, citizens of the United States would do well to contemplate the lessons of the Bolivian coup: First, that revolutionary activity – be it of whatever nature – is necessary when the governing authorities refuse to abide by constitutional limits. And second, that a constitution that means whatever the Supreme Court says it means is the functional equivalent of no constitution at all.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

I Totally Called It On Brexit

In February of this year, I predicted that there would be no Brexit by the 29 March deadline. I was right. The next magic day was 31 October, which has proven equally uneventful. Now it’s time to think about how all this fits into the long arc of the rise and fall of British democracy.
Way back on February 27 of this year, less than a week after I started blogging at Twilight Patriot, I predicted that there would be no Brexit. This went against the conventional thinking on the matter: the British people had voted to leave the European Union, the May government had spent nearly two years negotiating the terms of departure, and the promise was that Britain would be out by 29 March.

In the three-years-and-change since the June 2016 referendum, the mainstream media and the alt-media have both put out a copious stream of thinkpieces expressing a dizzying array of opinions about the meaning and significance of Brexit. While these writers can’t agree on whether the outcome of the election was good or bad, they generally at least see it as something important, a sign of the ongoing populist revolt against the technocratic global elite.

Needless to say, my belief that the whole thing would end up proving to be no big deal didn’t get a lot of traction. But when Brexit day came and went, and came and went again, and is now coming and going the third time, I think that events have borne me out. Granted, the British government is, for the moment, maintaining the pretence that Brexit will happen – right now, the date is 31 January – but when Boris Johnson’s protestations that he would rather be “dead in a ditch” than delay Brexit past today (it now being 31 October) didn’t pan out, I don’t think it’s wise to assume that the future will be any different than the past.

In my post in February, I claimed that elections, across most of the western world, now have very little impact on public policy. This is actually even more true in the United States than it is in Britain. Just consider how useless all those referenda against same sex marriage turned out to be, or the fact that, shortly after their big win in the 2014 midterms, Republicans were treated to the legalization of several million illegal aliens in the DACA program, an action which President Trump, after riding into power on an outraged electorate, has been forbidden by the courts from reversing.

The reason that the elites get to ignore elections these days is that they can do so without facing civil unrest. If, in 1815, Federal Marshals had shown up in a small town in Kentucky in order to arrest the county clerk for refusing to marry same-sex couples, the Marshals would have gotten tarred and feathered, in an optimistic scenario. If, in 1816, Britain had voted to leave an international organization, and that organization’s officers hadn’t responded by promptly vacating their British posts, the populace would have responded by rioting and burning their offices.

And if my defence of mob violence as a necessary support for democracy seems too crass, I invite you to consider where political power, in general, comes from. Our word ‘political,’ after all, shares a root with ‘police,’ and people obey the police because they know that if they don’t, they could get arrested, beaten, or shot. They obey mayors, governors, and judges because those officials control the police. And state and local governments, with their mayors, governors, judges, and policemen in tow, obey the central government because the standing army is even more powerful than they are.

In short, we have the rulers we have because those rulers are willing, and able, to respond to disobedience with violence. Violence doesn’t have to happen often – in the United States, for instance, the federal government hasn’t had to wage war against noncompliant states since the 1860s, and it hasn’t even had to threaten them with soldiers since the 1960s. Still, the memory of violence is there, and the obedience follows.

In a democracy, revolutionary violence has to be a possibility if the dictates of the common people are spurned – otherwise, the people don’t rule, and the regime isn’t a democracy. When election results are overturned or ignored by the intelligentsia, civil unrest ought to follow. Otherwise, the whole idea of ‘power to the people’ is a sham.

The whole history of British democracy is a testament of this. All the rights that the common Englishman has gained since that day in 1215 when King John signed the Magna Carta on the meadow of Runnymede are rights that were at first given grudgingly, when the King or the nobles realized that the alternative was another uprising. Throughout the centuries, as countless Englishmen bore arms in defence of their liberties, a consensus emerged about what the people's rights were – or in other words, what lines the King couldn’t cross without having another insurrection on his hands.

The American War of Independence was an offshoot of all this. Among the most sacred of the traditional rights of Englishmen was the right not to be taxed without the consent of an elected body in which they were represented. For the first century or so of the English settlement of America, colonial governors, who represented the King, shared power with local elected legislatures, whose consent was needed to impose taxes. Americans were generally content with this arrangement, King and all, but when the distant Parliament in London decided that it could make laws for both the mother country and the colonies, the desires of the local representative houses being irrelevant, war ensued.

Nowadays it seems like this arc is coming to an end. Unlike their ancestors who fought war after war to preserve their rights of self-government, the people of modern Britain have shown that their electoral preferences have no teeth. The people being thus unwilling to hold onto political power, the right of rulership has passed on to someone else – not, of course, back to Her Majesty the Queen, but to an assortment of ministers, judges, and unscrupulous MPs who don’t feel bound to carry out the agenda their constituents voted for.

Some Brexiteers still hold out hope that the next parliamentary election, scheduled for December, will turn out a government committed enough to strike a deal before the new deadline. But they shouldn’t hold their breath; none of the previous elections did that. In any case, the vote back in June of 2016 was close; “Leave” only won by 52% to 48%. Eventually, the Tories will become disillusioned and their turnout will suffer, Labour will win a majority in one of these snap elections, and the whole thing will end up dead and buried, alongside the larger project of British democracy.

American democracy, on the other hand, is already a nonentity, having seldom reared its head since the Warren Court overthrew what was left of the constitution in the 1960s. Congress is now impotent, most policy is dictated by lobbyists, and on those rare occasions when the people get around to making their voice heard anyway – like they did in the same-sex marriage referenda – no charade of compliance is necessary on the part of the elites. Justice Kennedy delivered his ruling, the media celebrated, and the people who had voted on the winning side of the election were denounced as bigots six ways from Sunday.

Now, some of my readers are probably doctrinaire conservatives who, though agreeing with much of what I say, are bothered by my characterization of the government under which we once lived as democratic. “We’re a republic, not a democracy,” they say, seemingly oblivious to the fact that human language only has the meaning that its users agree upon, and that for the vast majority of the people who have used these two words throughout the last few centuries, they were synonyms.

And this is as it should be, because “Democracy” and “Republic” started out as Greek and Latin words that meant the same thing. That is why, for example, the Hellenic Republic (the country which westerners, going back to Roman times, have called ‘Greece’) is called in its own tongue Helleniké Demokratía.

The question of why so many conservative intellectuals make so much hay out of this imaginary distinction – a distinction which, I should add, ought to have little relevance to people living under an oligarchy – is something that I plan to address next week..

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Stop Projecting Things Onto Russia

A fair examination of Russian affairs will reveal a human rights record that is, in most cases, better than that of the United States. So why does the American media use Russia as a blank screen on which to project its image of tyranny?
Recently, one of my readers contacted me to share his lengthy train of opinions about my blog and the topics it deals with. Mostly, these opinions were positive. He especially liked my use of the Blind Men and the Elephant as a metaphor for the civilizational decline that we’re currently in – a decline so broad and multifaceted that different observers can perceive totally different causes for it, and yet all be partly in the right.

But he had a major disagreement with me regarding my inclusion of Vladimir Putin in a list of people I admire in a post I wrote back in June. “I would not use the word ‘admire’ for Mr. Putin or people like him,” this reader said. “We can ‘understand’ how Russians feel, we can appreciate the skill of a Putin in playing to those feelings and accomplishing, to some extent, his goal of Russian national regeneration – without admiring him.  The same applies to other skillful politicians: Lenin, Hitler, Roosevelt.”

There’s just one problem with this reader’s characterization of the situation – I really do admire Vladimir Putin. I am aware of his country’s less-than-perfect human rights record, but even so, the Russian Federation is far from the autocratic caricature that Western media outlets have drawn. Indeed, I think that, in our times, Russia is a greater defender of human rights than United States. In any case, the Russia of today is certainly a vast improvement over what Putin inherited from Yeltsin back in 1999. Comparing Putin to Lenin and Hitler is very inaccurate. (And including a Roosevelt – either of them – in that list is downright ludicrous).

The event that prompted me to finally write this article was when the Drudge Report made a top headline story – and a bright red top headline at that – out of Russia’s test of RuNet, the all-Russian version of the internet designed to maintain Russia’s self-sufficiency in the face of the American-dominated global version.

Let’s imagine, for a moment, how the media would react in an alternate world where some country other than the United States – China, perhaps – controlled the global information lanes, and America decided to build an independent backup system out of China’s reach. Nobody would question the propriety of such a project. But when the country building a local internet is Russia – the blank screen onto which Americans project their visions of dictatorship – you’ll hear all about how Vladimir Putin is trying to stamp out freedom of speech and cut his people off from the rest of the world.

Just don’t stop to wonder why Vladimir Putin would need to do that.  He won last year’s election with 77 percent of the vote, and even in his closest election – in 2000 – he got nearly twice as many votes as his closest rival. In America, by contrast, the elections are nearly all squeakers, and the most recent one has featured the defeated party trying every gimmick it could think of to reverse the result.

Some Western pundits try to discredit Putin’s victories by attributing them to fraud, but everybody who’s been on the ground in Russia knows that the President is immensely popular. In any case, the intelligent observer should ask himself which situation is more likely to be influenced by fraud: Vladimir Putin walloping his opponents by two- and three-to-one margins, or what happened in Florida in 2000?

Then you have the people who compile democracy indices for publications like the Economist, who fault Russia because its President is too powerful. What they overlook is that the reason that President Putin can make whatever laws he wants is that his party, United Russia, has won huge majorities in the Duma over and over again.

In America, on the other hand, big changes in the law usually have nothing to do with who controls Congress. Just consider who was behind DACA, or the legalization of same-sex marriage. It isn’t your elected representatives who are writing the laws. Yet America still gets sky-high ratings from the Economist, because the neo-liberal intellectuals who write democracy indices don’t care whether elected officials are making a country’s laws or not, as long as they get laws that they like.

Russia also fights in a lot fewer foreign wars than the United States. Granted, when the Russians ally with someone like Bashar al-Assad in the fight against ISIS, the US media goes all in about how awful Assad is. But the Americans also fought on Assad’s side, except when we didn’t. And we fought for the Kurds, until we sold them out – basically, we’ve fought on nearly every side of this war. The Russians just picked a side and stuck with it until the Islamic State was stamped out, and they shed a lot less blood in the process.

Another bone of contention for Westerners is Russia’s invasion of the Crimea back in 2014; what most people never talk about is that the Russians only did this after the government of the Ukraine was overthrown in a CIA-backed coup. Also, the Crimea immediately joined the Russian Federation and is now represented in the Duma alongside all the other Russian constituencies. America, on the other hand, has held Puerto Rico for 121 years without giving it any representation in Congress.

Russia is nonetheless without its flaws, of which police brutality is a major one. It also has a worse-than-average incarceration rate, with 316 prisoners per 100,000 people. America, on the other hand, has 655 prisoners per 100,000, which is literally the highest incarceration rate in the world. A country doesn’t earn a distinction like that if all, or even most, of its prisoners actually deserve it. But with a combination of exorbitant sentences for nonviolent crimes, uncritical faith in the testimony of jailhouse snitches, and ignorant jurors who believe, more often than not, that it’s the defendant’s responsibility to prove his own innocence, America has managed the feat.

Also, in Russia, putting children on Ritalin and similar drugs is strictly illegal. If you were to take the Western media’s word for it, this is more evidence of how backwards the Russians are – i.e. they are ignorant of the prevalence of ADHD among children.

But the truth is that the Russians aren’t, nor have they ever been, ignorant of the fact that most children fidget and squirm in their seats, make careless mistakes on their schoolwork, and would rather be playing outside than sitting at a desk. In other words, children are more rambunctious and distractible than adults, and by definition, half of them are more so than the average child. The only difference is that the Russians have not chosen to categorize these things as a mental disorder.

The science behind child-drugging is sound: the symptoms of ADHD really do go away under medication; it is possible to make a child act less like a child by giving him a drug that suppresses his growth, makes him more aggressive and irritable, and dampens his desire to socialize with other children, play outside, climb trees, and do other things that healthy children do. And while the drugs work well for imposing conformity in America’s factory schools, research has failed to find any lasting academic benefits.

Also, drug dependency in childhood has been shown by neuroimaging to lead to permanent deficiencies in dopamine and GABA+, the same chemicals that the drug is boosting in the short term. So the upshot is that some ten to fifteen percent of the male population, plus a smaller number of girls, will grow into broken adults who suffer from depression, delusional thinking, and all sorts of mental illnesses, because some of their neurotransmitters are just missing.

In America, the authorities have decided that this is an acceptable tradeoff for a few years of improved behavior in grade school. But that is not the way that things are done in Holy Russia.

And I shouldn’t even need to get started on the advantages of living in a country where child custody disputes do not involve the question of whether the child should be raised as a boy or a girl.

Some people, after hearing about these kinds of things, like to console themselves by saying that, despite its shortcomings, the form of government that America’s founders gave us is still the best in the world. The trouble is, we are no longer operating under the government that the founders set up.

The founders didn’t create a Congress that had no say in how the laws are made. They didn’t give the President unilateral power to wage war. They didn’t give the Supreme Court power to amend the constitution. And they set up protections for defendants’ rights which, if followed, would have kept us from having the world’s highest incarceration rate.

 And if the other human rights abuses that I just described were never factored in by the men who wrote the Constitution of 1787, it’s because the power of human beings to anticipate future madness only goes so far.

If we valued what the founders gave us, and shared their outlook on life, then we would respond to the refusal of our government to protect these inalienable rights in the same way that they did – by having a revolution.

But instead, most Americans have chosen to turn a blind eye to the evil going on in their own land, and instead project the shadow onto a nation and a man who have done far more to defend human rights than anyone on this side of the ocean.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Don’t Be America’s Client State

Back in 1776, America claimed a “separate and equal status” with other nations. But now, our alliances are usually based on an understanding that the other nation has fewer rights than we do. And in the end, America’s client states always end up getting sold out by the regime in Washington.
Foreign affairs have accounted for a larger-than-usual share of notable events this week, with newsfeeds blaring out headlines like the following:

US Withdraws From Syria With Tail Between Legs!

Trump and Syria: The Worst Week For US Foreign Policy Since The Iraq Invasion?

Trump’s Betrayal Of The Kurds Will Echo For Generations.

To make a long story short, when President Trump abruptly withdrew American troops from Syria, Turkish forces poured across the border to secure the territory and finish off the last of ISIS. Caught in the crossfire are the Kurds, the only faithful allies that America and Israel ever had in that part of the world. Kurdistan’s brief foray into self-government, which began when the regimes in Baghdad and Damascus fled ISIS’ territory and left the Kurds to fight the Islamic State alone, is now on the verge of being stamped beneath the Turkish boot.

This turn of events is certainly dismaying, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody with a memory longer than that of a goldfish. About two years ago, in September of 2017, Kurdistan held an independence referendum with 93% voting in favour. The United States, despite characterizing itself as Kurdistan’s ally, refused to support Kurdish independence, as did most other countries, the main exception being Israel.

Ever since then, it’s been obvious that, while America might have an alliance of convenience with Kurdistan, that alliance isn’t based on any concept of equal rights. The Kurds do not, for instance, have the right to self-determination that the Americans exercised in July of 1776.

And the outcries that recent events have elicited from President Trump’s political rivals should be taken for the crocodile tears that they are. Neither party’s mainstream has ever supported Kurdish independence. That the Kurds should have less rights than we do is a matter of agreement; the question is only how much less.

And now the upshot of it all is that the nation which bore the brunt of the fighting in the ground war against ISIS will learn the same bitter lesson which nations like Taiwan have already learned – that America will always sell out its client states.

No doubt the opponents of Kurdish independence have reasons for their point of view. For one thing, national identities based on ethnic heritage are considered backwards in the world of today, where the inhabitants of the Middle East and Africa are expected to instead direct their loyalty based on lines arbitrarily drawn on a map by European colonial powers. And for the Kurds, those lines point toward Baghdad and Damascus.

Another reason is simply that Turkey, which is an important geopolitical partner of the United States, doesn’t want an independent Kurdistan.

Still, if one goes back and reads the American Declaration of Independence – the piece of legislation on which our ideas about when a country has the right to become independent ought to be based – one will find that appeasing the largest nation in the area wasn’t a driving concern for us. And it wasn’t a driving concern for other countries, either: France, Spain, and the Netherlands all recognized American independence before the Revolutionary War was over.

And when General Cornwallis was surrounded at Yorktown both on land and by sea, and he tried to surrender to the French navy rather than endure the embarrassment of surrendering his sword to the rebels, the French refused the offer. Cornwallis had to surrender to Washington.

A little over a century later, America found itself in a similar situation to the one that France had been in. The Spanish-American war was near an end, and the defeated Spanish force in Manilla, caught between an American fleet and the land forces of Filipino independence leader Emilio Aguinaldo, ignored Aguinaldo and surrendered to the Americans. The Americans not only accepted the surrender, but reneged on their promise to support Philippine independence and spent the next few years fighting a brutal counterinsurgency against their former allies, at last reducing the fledgling Philippine republic to just one more American territory.

Such transparent landgrabs aren’t in fashion in the world of today, and in any case, the United States is past the phase in its history where expansionism is seen as desirable. Now, the process of betrayal simply consists of abandoning an ally to the depredations of whichever large, nearby country believes that said ally has no right to exist.

This is what happened with Taiwan, when America suspended diplomatic relations in order to appease a larger and wealthier new partner in Red China, and then bullied the Taiwanese into giving up their nuclear program. Now Taiwan is defenceless against the day when the Maoist regime finally decides that the time has come to retake a territory whose allies have already decided that it deserves fewer rights than they do.

This is what is happening to the Kurds right now, and it’s what will probably also happen to South Korea, once America no longer has the resources to keep a huge garrison in that country and the South Koreans realize, all too late, that keeping Kim Jong Un’s men out would have required a military that could stand on its own two feet.

But there is one country that is often mistaken for an American client state, even though it doesn’t actually deserve that label. A country which has a close military alliance with the United States and which, like Taiwan, is surrounded by enemies who insist that it has no right to exist. But rather than relying solely on American garrisons to protect itself, that country used universal conscription to build the strongest military in the region. And that country also refused to be bullied into not developing nuclear weapons.

The country that I am talking about is, of course, Israel. And the reason that Israel will probably continue to exist in the post-American world is because, unlike Taiwan, South Korea, and Kurdistan, Israel has avoided becoming America’s client state.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Playthings of the Wind

As I am too busy to write a new post today, I will instead share one of my favorite poems: the second of Carl Sandberg's Preludes on Playthings of the Wind.

The doors were cedar
and the panels strips of gold
and the girls were golden girls
and the panels read and the girls chanted:
    We are the greatest city,
    the greatest nation:
    nothing like us ever was.

The doors are twisted on broken hinges.
Sheets of rain swish through on the wind
where the golden girls ran and the panels read:
    We are the greatest city,
    the greatest nation,
    nothing like us ever was.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Eternal Impeachment?

Passing articles of impeachment against Trump won’t get rid of him, but it will set a new precedent in American politics – namely, that every president gets impeached, as soon as the opposition party retakes the House of Representatives.
Well, it looks like the Democrats have finally done it. Nancy Pelosi gave her base what it has always wanted and greenlighted a House impeachment investigation against President Trump. Officially, it has something to do with the Ukraine. In reality, the Democrats are calling for impeachment for the same reason that they’ve been calling for impeachment for almost three years – because the wrong guy won the election back in 2016.

There are patterns in politics which, once they get started, do not easily stop. For instance, I think it is quite likely that, after Senate Republicans made their decision not to grant even a hearing to Merrick Garland, we’ll never see another Supreme Court Justice confirmed under divided government. Likewise, after what the Democrats did with the Kavanaugh hearings (which was complete overkill, since Justice Kavanaugh will probably turn out to be a liberal) there probably won’t be any more Supreme Court nominations that don’t involve baseless allegations of sex crimes.

But the precedent which the Democrats are currently setting really takes the cake, because if they go through with it, we can expect to see every president impeached, as soon as the opposition party retakes the House, for the rest of our lives. The impeached presidents will likely never be convicted, but the familiar cycle of back-and-forth swings in the control of Congress will have gained a new and highly telegenic component.

If that is going to be the future of impeachment in the United States, then how, one might ask, does it compare to the process’ past? A review of history is order, if only for the sake of making it clear just how far our system of government has gone awry.

The opposite of one bad thing is usually another bad thing, and the future that is now barrelling down on us, in which every president is impeached, will be no worse than the last two centuries, during which the impeachment process was rarely used at all.

 The goal of America’s founders was to create a republic. To preserve that republican form of government, the elected officials in Congress were expected to frequently use their impeachment power to keep unelected officials in line. The broad phrasing of ‘High Crimes and Misdemeanours’ was intentional, and the authors of the Federalist papers imagined presidents being impeached for waging undeclared wars or otherwise abusing their power, while judges could likewise be impeached for exceeding their constitutional authority and attempting to usurp legislative power from Congress.

But history didn’t go in the direction it was supposed to. The first official of any sort to be impeached and tried by the Senate was Judge John Pickering in 1804; he was convicted of “drunkenness and unlawful rulings” and removed from office. But when Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase faced the Senate the next year for his role in enforcing the unconstitutional Sedition Act, he was acquitted, and no other Justice has been impeached ever since.

The first presidential impeachment came in 1868 when Andrew Johnson was tried for wilfully violating an act of Congress that he deemed unconstitutional. Like Chase, Johnson was acquitted. And the framework in which such an event was possible – in which serious questions of constitutional limits were sometimes be decided by the democratic institution of an impeachment trial, rather than the oligarchic institution of judicial review – would not last into the coming century.

Ever since then, the probability of getting impeached has been proportional to the smallness of the offense. High crimes have made way for petty ones; grand overreaches of constitutional powers can’t get a politician hauled before the Senate, while misdeeds of the type that you or I could commit, such as lying in a sexual harassment lawsuit, just might do the job. That is how Richard Nixon was able to get away with expanding the Vietnam War to an entirely new country without risking his political life, but then ended up resigning anyway rather than be impeached for covering up a two-bit burglary.

And this process has reached its finale in what is happening to Donald Trump. The Democrats made up their minds from the beginning that they wanted him impeached, but they can’t do it for the high crimes he is actually guilty of, such as waging undeclared wars in the Middle East, because dusting off the constitution would put the entire bipartisan power structure in jeopardy. So instead, they spent two years blathering about Russian collusion, and when that didn’t pan out, they came up with the Ukraine thing.

An outline of Trump’s crime is as follows, and no, I am not making this up:

Back in 2014, Joe Biden’s son Hunter joined the board of the Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma at a salary of $50,000 per month. Hunter Biden had no experience in the gas industry, and no qualifications for the position except that his father was Vice President. This, along with other events, led Ukraine’s prosecutor general to open an investigation into Burisma for corruption. But then Joe Biden, while negotiating foreign loans in eastern Europe, threatened to withhold $1 billion from Ukraine unless the prosecutor was fired and the investigation dropped, and he got his way. You can read the whole story in this article at The Federalist.

After Donald Trump became president, he asked the Ukrainians to reopen the investigation. To hear the Democrats spin it, you’d think that Trump was simply going to foreigners for dirt on a political opponent, but in truth, the US has always worked with foreign intelligence agencies on international corruption cases like this, and there is no law granting immunity to the son of the Vice President. The fact that this is a continuation of an investigation that began before Trump was president makes it even harder to dismiss as a matter of partisan politics.

And so it begins. If the more vocal end of the Democratic party has its way, there will be an impeachment trial, which will almost certainly end in acquittal, followed by another impeachment trial, and another, every four or eight years when control of Congress changes hands and the new majority doesn’t like the president.

And to the few citizens who are really paying attention, all of this will come as just one more reminder that the job of elected officials these days is not to wield power, but to draw attention away from it.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Tulsi Gabbard Is Right: America Should Stop Being Saudi Arabia’s Bitch

When America’s war machine is at the beck and call of the biggest human rights abuser in the Middle East, and not even Congress can stop the President from waging war on its behalf, something has gone terribly wrong.
Saudi Arabia’s long involvement in the Yemeni civil finally exploded onto the home front last weekend when a drone attack, launched by the Houthi rebels, destroyed oil processing facilities that handle half the country’s petroleum. This isn’t quite as dramatic as it sounds, because even though production capacity has been briefly cut in half, most of the petroleum infrastructure – oil wells and so forth – is still in place, and the bottleneck will only last until repairs are made. Still, it was enough to send oil prices spiking and get an interesting response from President Trump, who tweeted the following:

“Saudi Arabia oil supply was attacked. There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, are locked and loaded depending on verification, but are waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed!”

Hawaii congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard replied to the tweet with:

“Trump awaits instructions from his Saudi masters. Having our country act as Saudi Arabia’s bitch is not ‘America First.’”

Now, as most folks are probably aware, the “culprit” that “we know” is supposed to be Iran, which has sided with the Houthis in the proxy war in Yemen. President Trump, on the other hand, has entered the war on Saudi Arabia’s side. Since America no longer has a constitution, no congressional approval was necessary, and when Congress tried to weigh in anyway, by passing a bill to end US involvement in the war back in April, the President responded with a quick veto.

The upshot is that America has inserted itself into the Arabian peninsula’s bitter Sunni-Shia rivalry by assisting in a brutal air war whose attendant famine and mass civilian deaths are driving more and more young men into the camp of the Houthi rebellion. These are the people I mentioned briefly in a post back in February, famous for, among other things, their one-of-a-kind national flag, which reads:

Allah is Great!
Death to America!
Death to Israel!
Curse on the Jews!
Victory to Islam!

As I’ve said before, these obviously aren’t the good guys. But neither are the Saudis, whose persecution of Shias and indifference to the suffering of poor Muslims all over the world has fed the flames for a whole catalog of terror movements. The Houthis are simply what you get when you treat the peasants the way the Saudis have been doing for decades. America has no business indulging this sort of regime.

And that’s why I agree with Tulsi Gabbard. Even though Gabbard is a Democrat, and I hence I reject her entire domestic agenda, I think she’s right to say that America should stop being Saudi Arabia’s bitch. If the President waits for instructions from a foreign monarch as to whom to attack, and then proceeds over the objections of his own country’s Congress, then he hasn’t done a good job of defending his country’s sovereignty.

That’s my opinion, unpopular as it may be on the Republican side of the fence. Nor do I buy into any of the propaganda about how America’s involvement in Middle Eastern statecraft is necessary to protect innocent countries from the evil that is Iran.

So the next time you hear a pro-Saudi neocon bloviating about Iran’s human rights record, just remember the facts. Iran didn’t wait until 2017 to let women drive – that was Saudi Arabia. And like Iran, Saudi Arabia executes a lot of people; what’s more, capital punishment isn’t limited to murder and sex crimes: the Saudis frequently behead religious dissidents, as well as teenage boys who participate in political protests.

And don’t forget about the Khashoggi murder. As a central pillar of international law, embassies and consulates are sacrosanct – pieces of a country over which it surrenders its sovereignty to a foreign government, even to the point of allowing criminals to live there for years if the hosts are sympathetic. And yet, in the minds of the Saudi diplomats, killing a visiting journalist, cutting him up with a bonesaw, and hiding the body in the backyard garden is an appropriate use for a consulate.

In an age when the West’s leaders had more honor, such an act would have resulted in an international uproar and the end of normal foreign relations for Saudi Arabia, as all of its embassies were closed and its ambassadors sent packing. Now? Hardly a whimper.

In conclusion: the American alliance with Saudi Arabia, and against Iran, isn’t based on human rights, or on putting America first, or even on upholding a stable and relatively peaceful world order. There just happens to be a very longstanding tradition, backed by a lot of oil money, of America being Saudi Arabia’s bitch.

And, as events have shown, it’s not a tradition that President Trump has any desire to challenge.